Moving in With a Friend

Or how to win frenemies..!

No guest is so welcome in a friend's house that he will not become a nuisance after three days!

While it could be ideal, depending on the people involved and the circumstances, renting a room to or from a friend or acquaintance has the potential to become fraught with bad feeling.

Living with a friend can be difficult enough when you're both equal in the arrangement - in addition to the usual day to day aggravations, the friendship can be put on a back foot - this has been my experience and isn't uncommon.

In a lodger/landlord scenario, the friend in the position of being the landlord can suddenly have a great deal of power over the lodger friend (both legally and in practice) - obviously, this depends on how much the lodger needs the room, but even if they do have somewhere else to go, if their landlord isn't ready to share their home, they will pick up on this and feel unwelcome. You may then either have a resentful lodger or a power struggle, or both. Friendship needs to be between equals, or at least, near equals and free from resentment.

At the other extreme, some people who move into established households will try to gain the upper hand (because of a sense of entitlement and a domineering personality, or even because of mental health or addiction issues) in any kind of house share arrangement, even if they've moved into someone else's home!

Some people are just not cut out for house sharing - I have heard many accounts of friends renting a flat together and one friend feeling so harassed by a domineering flatmate that they've been forced to move out.

If you suspect your friend could behave like this after moving in, this is even more reason why you shouldn't consider it. Although getting rid of a lodger is simply a matter of serving a month's notice or even less if this is "reasonable" under the circumstances, some lodgers with severe issues can be very tricky to evict, going as far as to lock themselves in, even threatening suicide or violence! Even if they aren't likely to resist if asked to move out, do you really want to risk your friendship?

If you have a friend with severe problems who is in danger of becoming homeless, please see Moving in a Vulnerable Friend for real ways you can help them without necessarily moving them in.

As a rule though, with houseshares the dominant housemate will normally be the one who was there first, so naturally, if that person already owns the home, or even rents it, and a second housemate moves in as just a lodger, the lodger will be very much the subordinate!

Even after more than one bad experience of the friend/lodger scenario, if I ever needed to rent a room or move in a lodger again, I still find myself thinking a friend would be preferable, even though my head tells me otherwise. It's a case of the devil you know, so people are going to continue to do it. However, most friendships really aren't that close enough to withstand quarrels, while not so distant that you reserve the kind of respect you would feel toward a stranger. You're therefore likely to lose your temper with a friend, while at the same time not having a strong enough relationship to absorb the damage. This is why living with a friend, especially where one has much more power over the other, nearly always destroys friendships. Consider this - very few of us would move in with a relatively new boyfriend or girlfriend, for exactly this reason, so why move in with a friend?

The question of how close you are before this arrangement can work is important - while I was doing my research for this site, I came across lots of instances where people were letting or renting a room to or renting a room from their "friend", or sharing with them as joint tenants - but they were petrified about approaching them about boyfriends out staying their welcome, cleaning, personal hygiene etc - I had to ask myself, if these people are such good friends, why don't they just ask the friend?

If you don't feel that you can (politely) raise any issue with your friend - BEWARE!!

Most especially if you're thinking of becoming your friend's lodger, and you may be depending on your friend for a roof over your head!

You more than anyone else need to have a very frank discussion with your friend first, establish both your expectations (get your friend to try this if they're not sure) and agree on house rules.

NB If you're planning to move in with a friend, and your friend seems reluctant to make plans for your future living arrangement (i.e. can't be pinned down to a move in date, won't set a rent, won't discuss house rules, isn't replying to your emails etc) - unless of course they're like this in general about everything - don't simply assume they're being very chilled - this a big red flag!

If your friend is behaving like this, ask them straight out - in person or by phone - if they're having second thoughts about the arrangement.  If it's a situation where there really is no alternative but to go ahead - try to make it temporary and set a definite end date no more than three months into the future.

I'm afraid that someone demonstrating this mindset is not ready to share their home with you - even if you're simply buddying up to rent somewhere jointly - but definitely if you're proposing to stay somewhere that's already their home.  That's right, you'll only be staying there - as a (somewhat unwanted) guest if you're lucky and don't rock the boat, but very likely as a downright inconvenience.

If you're the prospective landlord, think twice if you feel awkward about lending money to friends, or in the past you've felt that friends have taken advantage of you - if you move in a friend, they are either staying with you and just paying expenses (and sometimes, not even that), or they pay rent (although it might not be the full open market rate) and you have a proper business deal (i.e. a contract to let) - but with friends, it can be hard to set and stick to boundaries, with the result that one or both parties can end up feeling cheated. Rent need not be paid in money - if the lodger does a considerable amount of work for you instead (beyond their fair share of housework), this can be legally regarded as rent. See A Fair Rent for a Friend.

This can only work, at least if the friendship is to survive, if the landlord is genuinely happy to fully share their home on an equal footing with the lodger, for as long as the lodger needs it, without imposing restrictions (beyond reasonable pre-agreed house rules) or putting any pressure on the lodger to leave, and the lodger is prepared to fully pull their weight as a flatmate without taking advantage AND last but not least, BOTH parties keep their tempers and use tact and discretion when raising any issues!

So could this ever work if the friends aren't that close? I can frankly only see this working if both parties had something really important at stake if it didn't work out - for example, the landlord desperately needed the rent money, but didn't feel they could live with a stranger, or they needed someone they knew and trusted to look after their children or elderly parents, in addition to the lodger really needing that roof over their head.

Unfortunately, in reality, it is usually much more complicated and gets messy. I've personally experienced five such room lets, either directly or indirectly. Three ended badly, two with previously good long term friendships irretrievably lost.

Of the other two, that didn't end with permanent damage to the relationships, these were both to very vulnerable people, who were both suffering from serious mental illnesses at the time. Read more about letting a room to a vulnerable friend here.

I can only assume that this was because neither party had very high expectations - the "landlords" definitely weren't expecting any money, and didn't hold too many expectations about their "lodgers'" behaviour, and I expect the two "lodgers" were very grateful that someone was giving them a roof over their heads when they needed it most (even if the very nature of their illnesses made it hard for them to appreciate it till later). "A friend in need is a friend indeed" is never truer than here! I should also add that the two "landlords" involved are both extremely generous, giving people, though neither would've tolerated a bad lodger or tenant under normal circumstances.

But back to the more typical friend room let scenario. The landlord often doesn't need the rent money all that much - at least not so much that they're depending on it, but considers that it might come in handy and it might be nice to have their friend living under the same roof - what fun! Plus, a helping hand to look after the kids/housework/DIY etc wouldn't go amiss either... Yeah, and there's that feel good factor... After all, the friend's marriage has broken up (or they're about to lose their home, or are at least just a few weeks or months away from homelessness), and they don't have a very well paid job (if they have a job at all) - where else are they to go? They'll be so grateful!

A few months down the line, and both parties find it's not such fun. The lodger is finding it hard to adjust to the lack of freedom, after all, until recently, they ran their own home as a fully responsible, independent adult. Well, they might have expected to be told they can't have their boyfriend/girlfriend overnight and a few cold looks when their friend came round to share a bottle of wine and watch a DVD with them - IF they'd moved back in with Mother, but not from their best mate from uni!!

The landlord is cursing their former (or soon to be former) friend/lodger too - after all, they're doing them a BIG favour - if they went to Mrs Rachman's at number 18, they'd be paying a hundred quid more each month, wouldn't have central heating, would have to share with ten cats and be told to wash their hands after using the toilet! And as for that muppet friend of their's - they could forget having them, or anyone else over! Now that's the way to treat a **** lodger, with a rod of iron - put 'em in their place - show 'em just whose home it is! **** cheek!! They'd have all that and the pleasure of seeing 80 year old Mrs R parading around in her skimpy nightie - without her false teeth in, night and morning!

I keep my friends close, but my enemies even closer...

OK - that might sound like something out of The Odd Couple, but jokes aside, particularly with the chronic housing shortage in areas such as London, being a lodger forced to live with your friend who's grown tired of you living in (the landlord would prefer "staying", as in short term...) their home, because you can't afford to rent on the open market, and aren't likely to be able to anytime soon, isn't especially funny.

Neither is it funny for the landlord, who is growing more and more tired of not being able to relax or live as they want in their own home.

I've been in both these positions and neither is funny, unless you're lucky enough to have such a robust friendship that you can forgive and laugh about it in the near future.

I'm not proud to admit that I was in fact one of the live in landlords in the disastrous room renting experiences I've related above, and much later, another friend of mine became my live in landlord (what goes around...). Aside from letting a room to a friend/acquaintance, what my friend's live in landlord and my live in landlord experiences have in common is that we both firstly failed to consider what we could and couldn't accept from someone sharing our homes. We then both made impulsive, ill conceived offers of our spare rooms, then of course things became difficult and we both made very clumsy, even rude, attempts to change what our respective lodgers were doing!

This is why it is especially important to consider any potential sticking points before the let happens, talk frankly about your expectations, and make a proper agreement that you both stick to like any other landlord and lodger. At all costs, the landlord needs to avoid pulling rank as landlord (e.g. "this is my home and what I say goes!") - unless of course the lodger is seriously out of order, like not paying the rent, damage etc, and the lodger needs to avoid taking liberties (e.g. "Dave won't mind if I don't pay the rent this month - he knows I'm skint!")